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“We Do” Are The Magic Words In Conflict Amongst Couples

From the Mediation Matters Blog of Steve Mehta.

In honor of Valentine’s day, I thought we might look at conflict resolution between people in love.  New research has found that despite the fact that people often dislike when other couples use the royal “we” to describe themselves, those couples are actually using tools to help resolve conflict.  A new study from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that spouses who use “we-ness” language are better able to resolve conflicts than those who don’t.
The scientists analyzed conversations between middle-aged and older couples and found that those couples who used pronouns such as “we,” “our” and “us” and “our’s” behaved more positively toward one another and showed less physiological stress.
On the other hand, couples who used pronouns such as “I,” “me” and “you” were less satisfied in their marriages. This was especially true for older couples. Their use of separateness pronouns was most strongly linked to unhappy marriages, according to the study.
“Individuality is a deeply ingrained value in American society, but, at least in the realm of marriage, being part of a ‘we’ is well worth giving up a bit of ‘me,’” said UC Berkeley psychology professor Robert Levenson, a co-author of the study published last semester in the journal Psychology and Aging.

Previous studies have established that the use of “we-ness” or “separateness” language is a strong indicator of marital satisfaction in younger couples. These latest findings, however, take this several steps further by showing how powerful this correlation is in more established couples, linking it to the emotions and physiological responses that occur when spouses either team up or become polarized in the face of disagreements, researchers said.
“The use of ‘we’ language is a natural outgrowth of a sense of partnership, of being on the same team, and confidence in being able to face problems together,” said study co-author Benjamin Seider, a graduate student in psychology at UC Berkeley.
As far as conflict resolution goes, it sounds like it might help to get couples talking about themselves as an entity and the royal “we.”  In addition, this technique could be used in other settings.  When the parties are opposed to each other, try to find a way to get them to work together and to make them become a team against some entity or concept.  By working together as a team, you might be able to enhance the feeling of “we-ness.”  Moreover, studies have shown that when parties are able to work together against a common enemy, they are more likely to cooperate in other manners also.
1. Seider et al. We can work it out: Age differences in relational pronouns, physiology, and behavior in marital conflict.. Psychology and Aging, 2009; 24 (3): 604 DOI: 10.1037/a0016950
University of California – Berkeley (2010, February 5). Couples who say ‘we’ do better at resolving conflicts. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 14, 2010, from


Steve Mehta

Steven G. Mehta is an attorney and mediator providing unique mediation services in a variety of types of civil litigation. His ability to understand the human process and complex emotional issues involved in legal negotiations enables him to effectively assist the parties in obtaining the best possible results during mediation.… MORE >

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